|By Alan Jack Halverson||Genre||Rating||Reviews||Updates|
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|A Peculiar Situation|
May 10, 2016
Disaster struck his village when he was seventeen. The Earth Queen had begun raising taxes significantly in the past few years and this last was one of the largest tax hikes. The village was beginning to buckle under the stress of the Earth Queen's army. Eventually, the villagers had had enough and began to resist the Queen. Unfortunately for them, they were no match. In only a week, the village had been reduced to rubble and Qing Ru was left the last one standing. He had served primarily as the village's only healer but even his efforts could not save the sixty lives that had been laid waste by the Earth Queen.
Qing Ru was imprisoned in Ba Sing Se for three years before he was exiled from the Earth Kingdom all together. He now found himself wandering the streets of Republic City searching for employment. This was the one place on his native continent he could escape the Earth Queen's wrath and the loss of his village.
He was frequently turned down for jobs involving menial labor and was certainly not accepted as a medical employee at the hospital due to his inability to waterbend, even though he could produce far better results than any waterbender could. As he wandered the streets of Republic City he caught the glares of passersby who noticed the battle scar on his face and immediately thought "Triple-Threat." He was even accosted by the police who, after an extensive search of what little belongings he had on him, were satisfied that he was not a threat to public safety.
Eventually, Qing Ru set himself down in the city square in front of the government buildings. It seemed to him that significant traffic passed through there and he might be able to make some money from the passersby, especially the poor and sick. He figured that the poor would have the highest disease rate, partly from their living conditions, and partly from the prohibitively expensive rates the hospital he sought employment at earlier charged. So, he decided to provide what medical advice and treatment he could with what little he had at a price that the poor could afford.
Qing Ru scavenged a nearby dumpster for a large piece of paper or cardboard and something to write with. He found both and made a sign that said, "Cheap Medicine Here". It was a few hours before anyone took notice of the sign though. When he finally received his first customer, Qing Ru found that she was suffering from a lack of Calcium which was causing her bones to soften. He recommended drinking more milk but she replied, "Milk costs 50 yuans a bottle."
"Do you have any kale plants?"
"Eat more kale then," Qing Ru said, "and when you eat meat, make sure you grind any bones into a fine powder and mix that with water or something else and eat it."
Qing Ru spent the rest of the day similarly charging one yuan per customer and giving various sorts of advice and on occasion dispensing seeds for plants with medicinal purposes or sometimes extracts from insect venom. By the time the square had cleared, which was probably about midnight, Qing Ru had 65 yuans. He promptly slept on his pack.
Qing Ru awoke to a series of nudges in his side by a very firm and rough boot. He looked up to find three men standing over him. One in red, another in green, and the final in blue. Being new to the city, Qing Ru was unfamiliar with organizations such as the Triple Threat Triad but he was about to become very familiar.
"Hey boy," the one in red shouted. "We couldn't help but notice you wanted to do business in our territory."
Qing Ru stood. "Yeah, what's it to you?" he asked.
"Well, if you gonna sell stuff on our turf, you got to pay us protection money. So we come for our collection," the one in green said, smiling toothily. His breath was rancid and he had several false teeth made of gold.
"Protection from who?" Qing Ru asked.
"Just protection, we wouldn't want anything to happen to your collection of goodies," the one in Blue replied. "All we want is some compensation, say 60 yuans."
Qing Ru began laughing, much to the confusion of the three Triple Threats. "You know who you remind me of?" Qing Ru was covertly fumbling in his pack for a jar of lye.
"Who?" the one in red asked.
"The Earth Queen and her army, and you know what I did to them?"
As Qing Ru got the top off his jar he removed it from the pack slowly and shouted, "This," as he threw its contents on the Triple Threats. Their faces were seared by the harsh chemical. Qing Ru then tried to make his getaway but he was too slow and was forced to face the wrath of a very angry one armed waterbender. The one in blue caught his ankle with a water whip and began to drag him back.
As Qing Ru's hope dwindled, a voice called out from the shadows. "I'd put him down if I were you One Arm unless you want to become No Arm."
The three Triple Threats immediately turned toward the shadows. Even through the deformations of their injuries one could discern immense fear. The three quickly rose to their feet and ran off into the darkness of the city.
The man in the shadows stepped into the light of the streetlamp his left hand was on the hilt of a partially drawn katana which he promptly thrust back into its scabbard. He looked like he was about the same age as Qing Ru and was from the Fire Nation judging from his attire.
The man approached Qing Ru and held out his hand. "What's your name stranger?"
"Qing Ru," he took the man's hand and helped himself up.
"I'm Li and I have a business proposition for you."
Qing Ru at once became skeptical, "Like their business proposition?" Qing Ru was referring to the Triple Threats who had just vacated the premises.
"Not at all, I just noticed that you needed some accommodations and I happen to be renting a small flat that has room for two but only one occupant and I'm looking to split the rent."
Qing Ru was uncertain about whether or not he should trust this stranger who had just saved him for no reason other than he needed someone to split his rent.
"I only have 65 yuans--"
"And with the number of customers you got today you will no doubt make much more than 65 yuans tomorrow," Li cut him off.
"You were watching me?" Qing Ru asked drawing back slightly and covertly searching his pack for another of his odd weapons.
"No, but I passed by a few times on various errands and took note that you charged one yuan per customer and that you had quite a line built up the last time I passed by. I could tell that you were honest and smart and so would be an appropriate individual by the standards of the landlord and would also be able to keep up your end of the rent. I thus decided to recruit you once you had 'closed shop' so to speak."
Qing Ru continued to rummage through his pack.
"Additionally, if I was able to notice from a distance how much you charged each customer I should certainly be able to notice your search for another weapon within your pack from very near and I would certainly be able to draw this sword and strike you down before you had a chance to assault me."
Qing Ru was taken by surprise and so immediately stopped his search.
"So then Qing Ru, will you accept my offer or go back to sleep here in the street and wait for more Triple Threats to arrive to produce a miserable end to your life?"
Qing Ru was still uncertain about whether or not to trust Li but decided that he was better off with this man than with a group of organized criminals. "Okay, I'll go with you."
"Excellent, follow me, I don't have a car and there aren't any cabs running at this time of night so we'll have to walk."
Now came the questions. "Who are you?" Qing Ru asked.
"I told you, I'm Li."
"No, I mean who, like where are you from what do you do?"
"Oh, that. Well, I was born in Republic City but my grandfather came from the Fire Nation. We were relatively wealthy but Harmony Restoration took its toll and my grandparents lost quite a lot to rioters and the Earth King's army before it all ended. Then organized crime became a problem and my family was basically extorted out of everything after my grandfather died and my parents both became ill and died when I was thirteen. The only thing we had left before they died was this sword. I worked odd jobs for seven years and did a bit of what I was really good at on the side. I saved my money, made a few investments and have enough to live relatively well."
"And what are you really good at?" Qing Ru asked.
Li gave Qing Ru a blank look as they walked the streets of Republic City.
"I'm an investigator, the only competent one in Republic City, with the exception of Makko, but he's spent more time pro-bending than refining his investigative skills."
"So you work for the police then," Qing Ru gave Li a sour look.
Li took no notice and promptly responded. "Of course not, I work on my own, I don't trust the police to be competent. If they were competent and incorruptible, then there would be no organized crime and I wouldn't be able to compete as an investigator."
"So you're some kind of private detective?"
They continued for a few more moments in silence then Qing Ru spoke. "Don't you want to ask me any questions?"
"I already know everything I need to know about you. And it's not because I followed you or anything, I just had to look at you."
Qing Ru was confused. "Please explain."
"Very well, the color and design of your clothing tells me that you are from a lower class family in the Earth Kingdom. The dirt stains on it aren't from Republic city which tends to have more soot, feces, and fine sand from the beaches and although these are on your clothing now, they are fresh and you have acquired them only recently. The other stains on your clothes are from soil and your shoes have rice grains trapped in the soles suggesting that you come from an agrarian region of the Earth Kingdom so you are inland because you can't really farm well on the coasts of the Earth Kingdom due to the saltwater leaching into the soil and killing the crops. The scar on your face is recent, so it's not a childhood injury and since you come from a poor rice farm you can't have gotten it from a machine so you probably got it in a fight, but not with organized crime because you came from a rural agrarian society so someone from your village, but that's not likely since you're all too busy farming to have spare time to fight with one another so it was something more important. Perhaps bandits, but if it was just a group of bandits, what would they want with poor farmers, additionally, you wouldn't have abandoned everyone in your village just because a few bandits cut you up. How do I know this, you're sentimental, the fact that you're carrying around that old, tattered, stuffed badgermole on the end of your pack tells me that. So you must have left your village because you were exiled, so you did something the Queen didn't like. Tell me if I missed anything."
"You left out that my village was burned to the ground and that the only thing I could do to help them was heal their wounds."
"And you would rather have fought than to have provided your skills to prolong the fight in others? If you had done that instead, then your village may have burned sooner than it did." Li did not seem at all phased by Qing Ru's statement. "Here we are." Li stopped in front of a tall, aged building and he walked up to the front door and beckoned for Qing Ru to come in.
Qing Ru stood rooted and looked angrily at Li.
"If you're not coming in because you think I've mocked your situation, I would keep in mind that the Triple Threat Triad is still looking for you and that I was not in fact mocking you but giving you advice. If you can clear your head long enough, you will find that to be true."
Qing Ru softened slightly and followed Li into the building. They reached the third floor and proceeded to the 22nd apartment where Li removed a key from his pocket and unlocked the door. They entered and Li retired immediately while Qing Ru remained awake on the unused bed in the mostly empty second room of the apartment. He continued to think on the events of the day as he very slowly drifted into sleep.
Qing Ru awoke early the next morning to the sound of the city awakening. Cabs were beginning to move about the streets and shops were opening up. Qing Ru proceeded into the diminutive dining room and found that Li was at an empty rice bowl and was seated across from a policeman with whom he was conversing. "I'm sorry," Qing Ru said, "I didn't mean to disturb you."
"That's fine," Li replied, "Officer Shu was just leaving." Li gave the policeman a piercing glare. Officer Shu was unfazed and kept his stone hard expression as he rose and left the apartment.
"What was that about?" Qing Ru asked.
"He wanted me to investigate some opposition leaders."
"Yes, the president is beginning to feel the heat of his failures. He exiled the Avatar, can't solve the problem of those vines, and has been caught a few times using certain members of the police, like Officer Shu there, to suppress protest by force. That's been mostly cloak and dagger stuff though but you know, rumors spread like volcanic fire."
Qing Ru assumed that the last comment was an expression from the Fire Nation but soon dismissed it as another question popped into his head. "But the president isn't up for reelection yet is he?"
"You know a lot about how Republic City politics should work but not how they do work, he's up for reelection whenever the majority say he is and if they should use force to get their way, then they will use force to get their way." Li was now cleaning his dishes.
"So are you going to investigate?"
Li turned from the sink and gave Qing Ru a blank look. "You ask a lot of questions don't you?"
"No, that's why I told Officer Shu off," Li returned to his work. "You should have breakfast and then start working again, I'd go to your original place and take customers there today but would give all your customers this address to come to tomorrow that way you avoid the gangs. I on the other hand will go in search of mysteries requiring my skill." Li finished cleaning his dishes and returned to his room to get dressed for the day.
Qing Ru did as Li suggested and came back to the apartment late that night and crashed on his bed.
There were voices out in the parlor which for some reason drew Qing Ru out of his sleep and out of his room. He entered the parlor bleary eyed to find Li in his pajamas sitting in a sagging and worn armchair across from a man who appeared to be quite wealthy.
Li looked up to see Qing Ru in his same dirty clothing that Li had found him in the day before. "Ah, I was hoping you'd wake up," he said to Qing Ru. "This is Mr. Wu, he's a businessman and has just given us a very interesting mystery indeed."
"Us?" Qing Ru asked.
"Yes, I had hoped you would come along, you might find it interesting."
"I still don't see what's so interesting about it, it's a murder pure and simple, I just want you to catch the murderer," Mr. Wu said.
"If it were just that, then why come to me and not the police?" Li replied.
Mr. Wu remained silent for a short period but then spoke up, "I don't trust the police."
"Neither do many people but they still go to the police for things like this. So why didn't you go to the police?"
"Mr. Li, the police are inept and corrupt as you know, and this murder is linked to some rather sensitive business information, mechanical designs, that I would prefer not to be released to other people whether by intention or by accident. I trust both your honesty and competence."
"Very well then, let's be off. Oh, and Qing Ru," Li turned to Qing Ru as he and Mr. Wu rose from their chairs, "I bought you some new clothes, it would seem very odd indeed for me to be running around with a man in soiled clothing. The new clothes are in that brown bag on the kitchen table."
Qing Ru grabbed the bag and took it to his room where he changed while Li changed out of his pajamas in his room. All three were out of the apartment and in Mr. Wu's personal cab within minutes. The drive to Mr. Wu's office took about half an hour and upon arrival, the three quickly ascended the stairs of the three story building. At the top of the stairs, they came to a door which Mr. Wu unlocked and beckoned the other two to pass through. Mr. Wu turned the lights on to reveal the corpse of Mr. Wu's partner lying prone on the floor with his head toward the only open window.
"Come, help me examine the body," Li said to Qing Ru.
Qing Ru obeyed and began to inspect the cadaver. "He's been dead for about an hour and the burns around the chest area suggest he was struck by lightning. Ow." Qing Ru quickly withdrew his hand from the corpse.
"The fact that he's very heavily statically charged confirms that hypothesis," Li noted.
Li then stood to inspect the rest of the room while Qing Ru continued to inspect the corpse silently. Li noticed that several filing cabinets had been pulled open and papers had been thrust messily on the ground. The papers were mostly financial with the occasional memo. He also noted the puddle of water surrounding the cadaver. There was a safe in the room that had been severely scorched around the lock as if someone had tried to melt it off so they could get in. He noticed one of the company's insignia in the upper left hand corner of the door.
"So, there is a third member of your group?" Li asked.
"Yes, he's our chemist, I'm the metallurgist, and Verlok," Mr. Wu motioned to his partner on the floor, "was the mechanist."
"Where is the third member?"
"He's on vacation, visiting family in the Fire Nation."
"Is he a firebender?"
"Yes, but you can't honestly think that he has tried to steal the plans. It would be impossible."
Li's face lit up at this statement but the expression quickly vanished when Qing Ru looked up from his inspection and said, "He could be lying, after all, he had a key to the office, this man has been killed by lightning, and that lock is nearly melted."
"This may be true," replied Li as he continued to inspect the lock on the safe, "but if the chemist was the perpetrator, why didn't he have a key to the safe, and if for some reason he had lost it or something, why didn't he just use his knowledge of chemistry to break into this box of clearly superior steel that would have taken ages to melt through?" Li turned from the lock to Qing Ru, "Has anything been taken from the body?"
"Not that I can tell."
"I came in just after I heard the murderer lightning bend, he didn't have time to search Verlok," Mr. Wu explained.
Li turned to Mr. Wu, "Can you describe the murderer?"
"Not very well," Mr. Wu replied, "He looked about average height, but I couldn't see his face, he was wearing a Blue Spirit mask."
"I assume he escaped out that window," Li pointed across the office beyond Qing Ru and the corpse to the open window.
"Yes, but I didn't see where he landed, he just seemed to disappear, there was no jet of flame, or getaway vehicle."
"Did you notice anything unusual when you went to look for him?"
"Yes, there seemed to be some sort of updraft out that window but not out any of the others, it was quite localized and vanished almost as quickly as it had appeared."
"Explain what happened from your point of view."
"Verlok and I had just left the office for our homes and we were going down those stairs when Verlok said he had forgotten something and rushed back into the office, I then heard a lighting strike and a cry from Verlok so I drew my sword and rushed up to see what had happened. I found Verlok on the floor like he is now and the perpetrator near the window, trying to escape, he no doubt thought that security was on its way."
"So why didn't the murderer kill you?"
"I assume it was because he didn't see me."
"Do you keep all your financial records and memos in that filing cabinet?"
"What else do you put in there?"
"And the safe?"
"We store our cash in there."
"And what kind of cash would that be?"
"Yuans of course."
Li muttered to himself, "Interesting."
Qing Ru had almost finished looking over the body when he found a small black book tucked away in a secret pocket. The book was no bigger than his palm and was about twice the thickness of his thumb. He opened it to the first page and there he saw a series of strange markings running down the length of the page. He turned the pages and the markings continued.
"Speaking of interesting," Qing Ru said, still peering at the book, "you might want to look at this." He held up the book.
Li crossed the room and looked at the book. "Do you know what this is?" he asked Mr. Wu.
His expression had changed to a stern one as if he was attempting to refrain from any telling facial expressions, "Not at all."
"You don't mind if I keep it then, it might be useful in the investigation."
There was a knock on the door suddenly, both Mr. Wu and Li drew their swords as Mr. Wu carefully turned the knob.
On the other side of the door stood officer Shu, smug and irritated as usual. "Nice of you to call this amateur instead of the professionals Mr. Wu."
"How did you know Verlok was murdered?" Mr. Wu asked.
"A little bird told me."
Mr. Wu continued to glare at the policeman.
"You can't honestly believe that you were the only one who heard the cries of your business partner. You should all leave now, and let us handle this."
Li, having been satisfied that he had obtained all that he needed to know from the crime scene made no objection and he advised that the other two do the same.
As the three filed out, the policemen filed in and Li began to hatch his plan.
"You told me you'd be able to catch the murderer Li, now I expect you to deliver." Mr. Wu said. "Who did it?"
"I'm afraid I can't tell you who did it although I can tell you that the person is a skilled firebender considering that he could lightning bend before your partner waterbent at him."
"How did you know he was a waterbender?" Qing Ru asked.
"The puddle of water underneath him likely came from the pouch on his belt which still had residual water in it. It can't have been that it was ruptured by the lightning because it was nowhere near the striking point and it protruded slightly from the top of his head indicating that it had been directed in some form of jet before it went as limp as its bender.
"As I was saying, although I can tell you that the person is a skilled firebender because of the speed with which he lightning bent and his ingenuity in his escape at using heat to change the pressure of the air above him to create a buoyant force allowing him to escape without detection. This is much the same principle that airships operate on. I cannot tell you who did it simply because of the sheer number of people there are in Republic City, many of whom are firebenders and most of whom I've never met. So you can see that we really don't have any suspects to send the less corrupt police on a manhunt for. What we do know, however, is that the thief did not find what he came for, and so will be coming back to look for it again once the police have left."
"How do you know he didn't find it just before Verlok entered?" Qing Ru asked.
Li turned to Mr. Wu and gave him a look that revealed something to him, but not to Qing Ru. "Because they're in the most secure place in the world and can't be found in the short time it took for Verlok to return to his office, only to meet his demise."
"So what will you do then?" Mr. Wu asked. "The plans are still in danger of being stolen."
"We both know that's not true, but, I will catch your murderer. Since he's coming back, I'll simply return and meet him, and apprehend him there. I will however, need 'life insurance'."
"Yes, Mr. Wu, I was wondering, did Verlok have a workshop where he experimented on prototypes?" Li asked.
"And does he have steel and the appropriate cutting equipment including a lathe?"
"Might I make use of this workshop and your chemical laboratory, in exchange I will catch your murderer and you will be able to sell the final product I produce as long as I get 30% of the profits."
"Excellent, then all we need is a radio and a recorder and we're set." Li turned to Qing Ru smiling awkwardly and he followed Mr. Wu to the workshop and the chemical lab.
Hours later, long after the police had left and the cadaver had been taken to the morgue, Li sat alone in the dark in Mr. Wu's office with his right hand resting awkwardly on the hilt of his sword. His left hand was tucked away in his pocket. The radio microphone was cleverly concealed within the room so that it could pick up any conversation that occurred in the room. Qing Ru sat downstairs with Mr. Wu on the other end of the radio with a recording device attached to it.
The sun was just beginning to peek over the horizon when Li heard the window creak open slowly. He sat still as a man in a blue spirit mask crept in, still not noticing Li in the chair.
Li then spoke, "They really should replace those rusty hinges."
The thief was startled and nearly attacked until he realized who was speaking.
"So it's the genius investigator. It's actually quite fortunate that you are here."
"Odd that you should call me that," Li remarked.
"Because so far my reputation has only been one of being a troublemaker for the police, that's completely false, unless you're officer Shu, but no one seems to care all that much."
"Let's say that my employer has told me some great things about you."
"You said that it was fortunate I was here."
"Yes, you might be able to tell me where the plans are."
"In exchange for what."
"I won't kill you."
"You'll kill me anyways."
"Fine, but I'll kill you quickly. I do have a sadistic streak and would very much like to torture you to death."
"I could alternatively kill you first."
"Assuming you could draw your sword before I lightning bent at you."
"But then you wouldn't find out where the plans are."
"I'll find them eventually."
"That's highly unlikely considering they're not even here anymore."
The thief stood silent, then spoke. "It seems that we are at an impasse."
"So it seems. Let me make you a deal, I'll tell you where the plans are if you tell me about your employer and why he's so interested in stealing these plans."
"My employer is quite powerful, but very secretive, he might as well own the entire world with the exception of a few people. Verlok and his partners, are among those people, that's why he couldn't just get the plans and the associated profits from them. He had to steal them."
"How does he own the world?"
"Most people don't even know that he owns them, but he does because he has leverage on almost everybody and because he owns them, he owns their property, or, in the case of world leaders, their power. He deals in secrets, and crimes and remains nameless to all, and faceless to most. He uses the pseudonym, Master."
"A bit narcissistic," Li remarked. "I assume then he has something to do with this book."
"What makes you say that." The thief was looking at the small black book Qing Ru had taken off of Verlok.
"Because it belonged to Verlok and Mr. Wu obviously recognized it when I showed it to him and the outline of another such book was clearly visible in one of his pockets, you also said that they could not be touched by your employer who apparently owns everyone else so I would guess that this book has something to do with that."
"It's the Black Book."
"I gathered that it was indeed black."
"No, that's what it's called."
"By those who have an interest in the end to the kind of power that my employer has over others, that the Earth Queen has over her subjects, etc."
"Yes, but not to be associated with the Red Lotus."
"Yes, you'll be hearing about them soon enough. I have another question for you though."
"How does that line of reasoning linking the books to the Master make any sense?"
"It doesn't, I was just bluffing and hoping you not only knew, but that you would fall for it."
The thief chuckled slightly. "Okay now genius, it's your turn, where are the plans."
Li looked out the window toward the rising sun. He spoke, "The plans were never written down, Verlok kept them in his mind. If you notice, the only papers in this office were in that filing cabinet that you already ransacked. All you found were memos and financial records. The safe contains only cash, but not yuans as Mr. Wu claimed, gold. I know this because the rich don't carry cash if they can help it, they prefer to use banknotes because they are worth more than yuans and are more easily replaceable and less likely to be stolen. Gold on the other hand bears more value than any yuans or banknotes, but it's too heavy to carry around all day so Mr. Wu and his partners put their gold in that safe when they're at the office but, after they've left, they put it in their purses as could be discerned from the sack hanging from Mr. Wu's belt. Their political affiliation clarifies why they would carry gold instead of banknotes because few others in Republic City actually use gold for exchange. Additionally, when I was discussing the possibility that the third partner had attempted to steal the plans Mr. Wu quickly exclaimed that it would be impossible also bearing the implication that the third partner knew this and wouldn't even try. So, all of them keep their plans in their heads until they've actually released their products. Sure they tinker in their workshop as I saw when I was down there but they destroy anything that can be easily stolen or copied by others as soon as they've finished and mentally recorded the plans. The bits of various prototypes that had suffered such a fate were scattered about the workshop and were kept merely as scrap for future experiments.
"So, you see, thief, the plans you sought went to the morgue inside the mind of a dead man."
"If that's the case, then I have failed and shall have to forgo my payment. I'll at least still get the pleasure out of killing you!" the thief glared at Li as he began to lightning bend.
Suddenly there were two loud bangs in quick succession and the thief fell on the floor backwards.
Li strode toward him as the thief, still in shock and forgetting that his hands were still charged, reached for the two small holes in his chest that were now slowly seeping blood. When his hands contacted the first hole he was instantly electrocuted. Li looked down at the man as Qing Ru and Mr. Wu burst through the door concerned that Li had been killed.
"We heard you over the radio," Qing Ru said, "we thought you'd been electrocuted."
"No," Li replied. "Instead I made use of that device I cooked up in the workshop." Li drew a small metal object out of his left pocket. His forefinger was resting on a small metal lever that was attached to a handle that was perpendicular to a metal tube. Li depressed another lever on the handle and the bottom slid out of the handle to reveal a metal box that had a series of lead cylinders encased in copper.
"I don't understand," Qing Ru held the device examined the device after Li handed it to him.
"Of course!" Mr. Wu cried. "A chemically propelled projectile!"
"Did you record the conversation?" Li asked.
"Yes of course," Qing Ru replied.
"Good, because I have a feeling that will be handy in the inevitable court case."
"Court case?" Mr. Wu asked.
"Yes, you see, I am going to be accused of murder and you will be my accomplices. Unless we can prove both that this man was a murderer and a thief," Li pointed to the now dead, but still twitching thief on the floor, "and that I acted in self defense, then we shall all go to prison for life."
"You mean be executed," Qing Ru said sternly.
"Exactly," Li replied, "Life. Or what would be left of it."
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